Best Buy Was Paid By FBI To Report On Customer's Computers

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Records posted Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation following a freedom of information lawsuit filed last year reveal that federal agents would pay Geek Squad managers who pass on information about illegal materials on devices sent in by customers for repairs.

The relationship goes back at least ten years, according to documents released as a result of the lawsuit.

The aim of the FBI's Louisville division was to maintain a "close liaison" with Geek Squad management to "glean case initiations and to support the division's Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime programs," the documents say.

According to the EFF's analysis of the documents, FBI agents would "show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content" and seize the device so an additional analysis could be carried out at a local FBI field office.

That's when, in some cases, agents would try to obtain a search warrant to justify the access.

The EFF's lawsuit was filed in response to a report that a Geek Squad employee was used as an informant by the FBI in the prosecution of a case involving child abuse imagery.

One released document showed a $500 payment by the FBI to a "confidential human source" whose name was redacted that the EFF said was the same amount as a payment made in the prosecution of Mark Rettenmaier, a California physician and surgeon who was charged with possessing child abuse imagery, found after he sent in his computer to Best Buy for repairs.

The documents show that the FBI would regularly use Geek Squad employees as confidential human sources -- the agency's term for informants -- by taking calls from employees when they found something suspect.

But that relationship and data handover could violate Americans' constitutional rights to protections from unwarranted searches and seizures, the privacy group charges.

Because the FBI uses Geek Squad as informants, the EFF says that any search should be seen as a warrantless search carried out by proxy, "and thus any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal searches should be thrown out of court."

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